Penguins-Avalanche Preview


Dealing with a slew of injuries hasn't slowed the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. Also not getting in their way are road games against Western Conference teams.

The undermanned Penguins look to make it five straight wins overall and continue an impressive run against the opposite conference Saturday night when they face the Colorado Avalanche.

Despite playing without superstar captain Sidney Crosby for most of this season, Pittsburgh (37-21-5) has remained among the league's best teams. Currently fourth in the conference, the Penguins may not be able to catch the East-leading New York Rangers, but they are closing in on a sixth straight playoff berth.

Pittsburgh overcame injuries to top defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) and forward Steve Sullivan (lower body) and continued its strong play with a 4-3 shootout win at Dallas on Wednesday. James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis converted in the shootout for the Penguins, who have outscored opponents 18-6 during their four-game win streak.

''It was back and forth,'' Penguins center Jordan Staal said. ''It felt a lot like playoff hockey - very tough, lots of hitting.''

Wednesday's win improved Pittsburgh to 10-0-3 on the road against Western Conference teams since a 3-2 loss at Anaheim on Nov. 5, 2010.

Letang, the team leader among defensemen with 31 points, is still experiencing what coach Dan Bylsma calls "symptoms" after taking a hit from Stars forward Eric Nystrom in the first period. Letang remains with the team and will be reevaluated after returning to Pittsburgh.

"He's got symptoms. Not dramatic at this point, but certainly going to get home and get evaluated by our doctors," Bylsma told the team's official website.

Sullivan, who has two goals and seven assists in his last six games, sat out the last two practices, but hasn't been ruled out for Saturday.

League scoring leader Evgeni Malkin extended his latest point streak to six games with an assist against Dallas. Malkin has five goals and five assists during that run.

While Malkin is a likely Hart Trophy candidate, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has also been a huge part of Pittsburgh's success. He's 14-2-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average in his last 17 starts and ranks second in the NHL with 33 wins. Fleury is 4-0-0 with a 2.22 GAA in his past four starts against Colorado.

Points are at a much higher premium for the Avalanche (33-28-4), who are on the outside of the playoff picture in the West.

A home matchup with league-worst Columbus on Thursday appeared to be a golden opportunity for Colorado to stretch its win streak to five, but the team failed to get any of its 33 shots past Steve Mason in a 2-0 loss. That was a particularly surprising result after the Avalanche went 7-3-2 in February - the franchise's best mark in the month since 2002-03.

''We had a nice string of wins together but tonight, for whatever reason, our execution wasn't sharp, especially at the start of the game,'' coach Joe Sacco said.

Steve Downie, acquired from Tampa Bay on Feb. 21, has two goals and five assists in five games with his new team. Gabriel Landeskog had a six-game point streak snapped in the shutout after he was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for February.

Colorado, however, needs more from its best players. Captain Milan Hejduk has one goal in 14 games, Paul Stastny has three in his last 17 and Matt Duchene one in six games after missing 20 with a knee injury.